Friday, August 31, 2012

Tarvaris, Tyler And The Turk

Tarvaris Jackson’s first pass in a Buffalo uniform, thrown with the Bills facing fourth-and-3 and 31 yards away from the go-ahead touchdown, was intercepted.

What figures to be Tyler Thigpen’s final pass in a Buffalo uniform, thrown with the Bills 24 yards away from the go-ahead touchdown, was also intercepted.

So one of the few conclusions that can be drawn from Thursday's 38-32 loss to Detroit in the exhibition finale: The Bills are perfectly capable of losing with either guy.

Meanwhile, Ryan Fitzpatrick – the only quarterback on Buffalo’s roster who matters much once the real season starts in nine days – had his sharpest outing of the practice schedule. Fitzpatrick connected on all five of his throws, capping his lone series with a nice fade to Stevie Johnson for a 4-yard touchdown.

Of course, the drive came against a Lions defense playing without half its likely starters. And the Bills promptly gave up 28 points before the first quarter ended. That Lions surge, as well as Buffalo’s subsequent comeback to briefly retake the lead in the fourth quarter, came with neither team fielding any of their likely starters.

And it was the exhibition finale, perhaps the most meaningless exercise for which fans are forced to pay in professional sports.

So I may have said too much already about all that.

Of slightly more importance is tonight’s final roster cut-down, when at least 22 aspiring NFL players will have their dreams dashed, or at least delayed. Tim Graham of the Buffalo News has an excellent look at the unfortunate soul tasked with breaking the news, known in training-camp lore as “The Turk.”

"That's the last thing they want to do, fill out all that paperwork after their dreams were just shattered," the unnamed Turk said. "Then the absolute worst part is driving them to the airport afterward. What do you say to them? His career just ended."

Thursday, August 30, 2012

From The Wayback Machine: Flutie v. Johnson

Exhibition finales are never very interesting, but if you find your way to sitting through all of Buffalo's visit to Detroit tonight, you might want to seek medical help.

Coaching paranoia precludes anyone of value playing more than a handful of snaps. A little more than a week before the real thing starts, the depth charts are pretty well set. So you will see starters for a series or two, backups for two or three beyond that.

Then it is all guys who are about to get cut auditioning for the chance to get picked up by another team. Which will then cut them again.

The Bills' quarterbacking situation somehow manages to make tonight even less intriguing. New backup Tarvaris Jackson will not be ready for more than a few plays, so that is all he will get. As usual in the final game of August, starter Ryan Fitzpatrick will have the shoulder pads off after 10 snaps or so.

That means Tyler Thigpen aficionados finally get the moment for which they have been waiting.

The idea of analyzing the situation facing Thigpen, who is widely expected to be cut before he reaches the locker room after the game, makes my soul hurt a little. Instead, time for a little We Want Marangi nostalgia.

Long, long ago, in the days before blogs, Twitter and Facebook, there was The Buffalo Post.

Looking for a way to keep ourselves from being driven insane by our day jobs, Mark Wisz and I, along with a cast of both frequent and decidedly irregular contributors, developed one of Buffalo's first consistently updated online outlets.

Real life, along with our failure to monetize our efforts, eventually put The Post into hibernation. While the url for was snapped up by shady internet squatters, the content lives on at -- also known as The Wayback Machine, an excellent resource for extinct online entities.

What passed for The Post's heyday was also the height of Flutie v. Johnson, perhaps the greatest wedge issue in franchise history. As tiresome as the debate could get, especially when you had little choice but to write about the wee miracle worker and the laconic Californian to the exclusion of other, at-least-equally important topics, it was ideal column fodder.

No matter which side you took, you were sure to piss off at least half your readers. And if you tried to play it straight down the middle, nobody was happy.

So as the Bills head toward the 2012 regular season unsure of whether they have a competent backup quarterback on the roster, let us travel back to a time when there was a legitimate debate over who should be No. 1.

All Flutie does is win. All Johnson does is get hurt.

Flutie's a warrior. Johnson's a dude.

Flutie only cares about the team. Johnson only cares about making sure his bandana is on straight.

It all looks so simple.

Too bad so much of it is crap.

See the rest of the piece -- the last I wrote before Tom Donahoe and Gregg Williams told Flutie to hit the bricks -- for yourself -- and explore more coverage of the Bills, Sabres and the rest of turn-of-the-century Buffalo by navigating the links on the left.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

'In Order To Save The Bills, They Must Be Destroyed Forever'

Writing about Buffalo and its professional football team in his annual preseason "Why Your Team Sucks" series on Deadspin, Drew Magary manages to wrap just about every regional insecurity into two paragraphs without invoking chicken wings or blizzards.

If you're from Buffalo, you're essentially from nowhere. You talk like a Midwesterner ("Hi, I'm fraaam Baaaffalow"), and yet you're located in the Northeast. You take pride in the Goo Goo Dolls, which no reasonable person should do.

There's plenty more fodder for manufactured outrage. So if you enjoy nothing more than getting offended by unfair attacks from people who Just Don’t Understand Buffalo, you can scream WHAT AN ASSHOLE WE HAVE OLD BUILDINGS AND A GROWING MEDICAL CAMPUS AND THE WATERFRONT IS NOT QUITE AS EASTERN BLOC AS IT WAS FIVE YEARS AGO WHY DIDN'T HE MENTION ANY OF THAT in the comments below.

The football stuff is pretty funny, and mostly dead-on, as well. Not to mention timely.

And now T-Jack is in town! Holy shit, Tarvaris Jackson is awful. The Bills are like the Salvation Army of terrible quarterbacks.
So if you have any sense of humor or perspective about Western New York or its football team, enjoy yourself. If you don't, start one of those completely insecure self-pity threads that spring up on local forums whenever anyone question the sacrosanct coolness of Buffalo (I'm looking at you, Buffalo Rising).

(Photo lifted without permission from

Monday, August 27, 2012

Choose Your Weapon

Tarvaris Jackson may represent an upgrade over Vince Young.

And getting punched repeatedly about the head and neck might be better than being beaten with a flat-bladed coal shovel.

Three outings by Vince Young, the latest featuring two rather gruesome interceptions, apparently convinced Chan Gailey that for all of the former Heisman Trophy winner’s physical gifts, quickly picking up a complex offensive system is not one of them.


If management believes Jackson, whom reports have heading to town from Seattle for a late-round draft pick, improves the quarterbacking depth chart, you know Gailey and Buddy Nix are at least as worried as the public at large.

Jackson’s first opportunity came in Minnesota, where he so impressed Vikings brass in parts of two seasons as a starter that they went out and exhumed Brett Favre. Twice.

And after Favre mercifully, probably retired, the Vikings decided that a thoroughly shot Donovan McNabb was a better option, shipping Jackson to Seattle.

His performance there last year convinced the Seahawks to draft a quarterback last spring. Kelly Russell Wilson won the starting job in camp, pushing Jackson all the way down to No. 3, a spot where his $4 million contract is thoroughly unfeasible. Jackson is reportedly willing to re-work his deal in order to be traded, rather than released, so at least he seems to have a realistic sense of self.

Jackson’s team has won half the games he has started. His only playoff appearance, with the Vikings in 2008, yielded a miserable 15-of-35 performance in a 26-14 loss to Philadelphia – at home, no less. And that was with the league’s best running back, Adrian Peterson, behind him and a defense ranked No. 6 in total yardage.

In Seattle, Jackson went .500 with a rejuvenated Marshawn Lynch as the focal point of the offense and another top-10 defense.

Accuracy has been Jackson’s main issue. While this should make him feel at home among Buffalo’s quarterbacks, his history makes him hard to think of him as a viable option should Ryan Fitzpatrick continue to struggle as he did through the second half of last season and the first three weeks of the exhibition schedule.

Of course, Young and Tyler Thigpen have been competing for the No. 3 spot this summer, with neither looking like a legitimate backup.

Fitzpatrick, meanwhile, has had a characteristically unimpressive preseason. Last year, he shook off his summertime struggles and spent the first seven weeks of the regular season as one of the NFL’s hottest quarterbacks, before reverting to form.

Whether Young, Jackson or even Tyler Thigpen ends up at No. 2, this much is clear: For all of the Bills’ offseason maneuvering to mean much of anything, they need the Fitzpatrick who blazed through last September and October.

Or else they end this season in the same shape as the previous 12 – a bloody mess.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Chan's Quest For Quarterback Competence

Despite all claims to the contrary, Chan Gailey has a quarterback controversy with which to deal, with two weeks remaining before the regular season opener.

The question, unfortunately, is not which of Buffalo’s three quarterbacks should start in New Jersey on Sept. 9. Based on their performances through the first three weeks of the preseason, particularly Saturday’s 38-7 exhibition loss to Pittsburgh, Gailey’s real quandary is whether any of them belong on a National Football League roster.

Ryan Fitzpatrick’s most extensive outing of the practice-game schedule yielded execrable numbers -- 7-of-18, 89 yards with no touchdowns and, to his credit, no interceptions. The aesthetics weren’t much better, with his scattershot tosses looking like what you would expect from, say, a Cincinnati Bengals backup.

As for Vince Young, who Fitzpatrick skeptics hoped might create a more productive quandary for Gailey, I cannot comment on much of his second-half performance. In the interest of full disclosure, my son Jackson and I left his first Bills game at the beginning of the Steelers’ tie-breaking 98-yard touchdown drive late in the second quarter. Upon returning home, though, I turned on the television just in time to see his generous lob to Pittsburgh’s Robert Golden, who gratefully returned it to Buffalo’s 8-yard line.

To Young’s credit, he ran down Golden and saved himself the embarrassment of a pick-six. So he’s got that going for him.

Two plays later, Steelers backup Byron Leftwich threw his second touchdown pass of the night and it was 28-7.

Young finished 12-of-26 for 103 yards. So he and Fitzpatrick were a combined 19-of-44, covering a per-attempt average of 4.36 yards per throw. Thankfully, Gailey kept Tyler Thigpen out of public view, or the stats might have been even uglier.

No, it did not help that Buffalo’s receivers caught the ball roughly as well and Fitzpatrick and Young threw it, letting at least a half-dozen balls slip through or bounce off of their hands.

But when you find yourself enviously eyeing Byron Leftwich, you have a problem, Chan.

--Buffalo’s newly expensive defense looked like it might be worth the money early on, forcing the Steelers to go three-and-out on their first two series and keeping them off the scoreboard until C.J. Spiller’s fumble set up a point-blank scoring drive to Pittsburgh’s first touchdown.

Mario Williams, the best-compensated player the Bills have ever had, led an impressive pass rush with two sacks and Spencer Johnson combined with Nick Barnett to stuff on third-and-1 early in the second quarter, ending the fifth of Pittsburgh’s five scoreless possessions to open the game.

A little more resistance after Spiller’s fumble would have been nice, and it is impossible to rationalize giving up a 98-yard scoring march under any circumstances. Still, Buffalo’s starting defenders provided more basis for hope than their offensive counterparts.

--Not going to provide any further mention of the second half, when Pittsburgh ran off 24 straight points to get to 38-7, because:
A) Didn’t see it; and
B) Don’t care.
Neither should you.

--Jackson made it through the experience without any apparent trauma. Walking around the parking lot beforehand, I explained to him the importance of watching where he was walking, because there were going to be plenty of people who were not.

The warning proved as unnecessary as my mild pre-game concern, as most of the crowd seemed pretty well-behaved and decently balanced, regardless of the colors they wore. Good to see that no one took the game, or the tailgating, more seriously than absolutely necessary.

He did learn a few things, including a crude understanding of down and distance, the incredibly long odds of seeing yourself on the Jumbotron and the importance of never, ever, never setting a beef-on-weck, even one wrapped in foil, on the floor of a stadium men’s room.

Also, while waiting for nachos at the concession stand moments before the opening kickoff, a group of blue-and-red clad thirty-somethings paraded behind us, singing the “hey-hey-hey-hey” portion of “Shout!” quite loudly.

“I think they’re drunk,” he said, nodding his head seriously.

“Not as drunk as they’re going to be,” I reassured him.

We had good seats, 26 rows up behind the Bills bench at about the 40-yard line on the stadium’s tunnel end. He got into the spirit when the crowd got loud before key defensive plays and especially when Fred Jackson ripped off a 15-yard run, helping set up his own 1-yard touchdown run for Buffalo’s only points.

And he paid attention most of the way, saying his favorite moment was when David Nelson lunged for the end zone, ball outstretched, only to be ruled just short on the play before Fred Jackson’s touchdown. As a souvenir, he selected Cleatus, the Transformer-esque mascot of Fox's NFL coverage.

In order to ensure time for an ice-cream stop, we left with the score 7-7, the Bills having gotten the better of things on both sides of the ball. His pre-game loyalties had been somewhat in question, since his Uncle Adam is that rarest of creatures – a passionate, yet reasonable, Steelers fan.

“So, who were you rooting for?” I asked him on the ride home.

“The Buffalo Bills,” he said without hesitation.

Good thing we left when we did.